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Sunday, August 23, 2009

Giuseppe Giacomini: Defining Dramatic Tenor

Bringing up Giuseppe Giacomini (1940-) is a good way to start an argument among opera buffs. Giacomini is possibly the ultimate example of what I so often complain about in these pages—a dramatic tenor whose vocal method is the furthest extreme of the dark, greatly covered, larynx-in-the-boots school of Italian singing—voices perfect for verismo, which is to say melodramatic opera. So, I'm about to indulge myself in inconsistency, do a complete 180, at least in this single instance, and say that Giuseppe Giacomini is a brilliant tenor, and to my taste the greatest of all the dramatic tenors. (Let me say only that I do not consider the nonpareil Franco Corelli a dramatic tenor.)

I think that in the case of Giacomini, if he is unknown to anyone, the first thing to offer is a sample.   If you are fond of "Ch'ella mi creda," from La Fanciulla del West, but do not know Giacomini, prepare yourself:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1M1NDY5s0cg


Isn't that amazing? I nearly fell out of my chair the first time I heard it. I do not believe I have ever heard Bb's like that from any tenor before. The power, the richness, the ring; it's positively thrilling. He sounds here almost like Leonard Warren with a tenor range. Absolutely unbelievable, and the style and musicianship are impeccable, as they always are with Giacomini, an intellectual and very well educated musician.

Giuseppe Giacomini is possibly an epicure's taste in the somewhat giddy and show business obsessed world of American opera during the last 30 years. He was not nearly as popular here, sadly, as those tenors who obsessively and instinctively played to the gallery. He was and remains a very strong-minded man; a serious musician with absolutely no time for silliness or show business glitz. He was not a beautiful heart-throb like great Franco Corelli; he was plain: short, half bald, and very near-sighted. He appeared in concert looking exactly like he really does, often right down to the coke-bottle-lens glasses. He was there to sing, not to compete in a glamour contest. Here is a perfect example. Listen to this "Si pel ciel..." with Sherrill Milnes. What you see is what you get. And what you get is brilliant stylistics, musicianship and, of course, voice:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NVir140saiY&feature=related


This is dramatic singing at its best. It is very hard to imagine the tenor part sung better, and in fact Otello was his signature role, along with Andrea Chenier.
His career was very largely in Europe, where he was quite popular. He was, for example, a staple at the Vienna Staastsoper, certainly a discriminating house if ever there was one, for fifteen consecutive years. He was enormously popular in Italy, and sang in all the major houses: La Scala, Teatro San Carlo, Teatro Reggio, Opera de Roma, Mantua, Parma, Modena. He sang in major houses outside Italy, not only in Vienna, but in Barcelona, Berlin, Lisbon, many others. It was only in America that he did not fare so well, even though he sang at the Met, The Chicago Lyric, San Francisco and so on. America, at least at that time, was not as susceptible to his studied approach. American audiences were still somewhat dazzled by stereotype and showiness. Also, he did not record much. His kind of voice is much better in the theater than on record, because the high resonances from the fine, thinner edges of the cords have been sacrificed to the thicker vocal folds, resulting in the darker sound that carries well enough in the theater (on most nights) but does not record very well. And of course he never went on TV talk shows or participated in any publicity stunts of any kind. His "outreach," so to speak, was limited to the theater, exactly where he thought it should be. He was what the Spanish call "un hombre serio y formal."

Here is a wonderful rendition, in performance, of "Non Piangere, Liu," from Turandot:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5M3qSyvjY34


I do not see how this can be faulted in any way.

Such extreme low-larynx singing, spectacular as it can sometimes be, as in the case of Giacomini, does not come without a price. He sang well for a good 25 years, (no small accomplishment!) but eventually he developed a wide wobble in his voice, from the strain to which it had been subjected. He did continue to sing, but the wobble can be disconcerting.

But never mind. At his best, he was wonderful. He is also an admirable human being: gentle, serious, intellectual and reflective. If you can understand Italian, do not miss the four-part interview posted on Youtube, in which he talks at great length about theater, music, and especially opera. He has little competition among tenors for intelligence and musicality, except for Placido Domingo, of course, who is unique and certainly one of the world's great musicians.

Giacomini deserved much more in this country, but his fame is actually growing with time (much of it thanks to Youtube) as more and more people—especially in the U.S.—seem, at last, to be getting it.
_________________________

72 comments:

corax said...

as usual: spot-on, sir edmund. you even anticipated my question about the cost of such low-larynx singing.

moreover, you are [unsurprisingly] exactly right about the leonard warren comparison.

OK, i'll bite. how *do* you characterize franco corelli, if not as a dramatic tenor? he did sing plenty of dramatic roles.

Edmund St. Austell said...

Thank you, my friend. I would say "spinto." And only slightly pushed at that. He talks about it on Youtube, in the video in which he talks about Lauri Volpi, with whom he studied. Lauri Volpi greatly praised Corelli; this tells us something, because L-V was the ultimate bel canto tenor. It's the color of Corelli's voice that lets him excel at dramatic roles. I think if you check on Youtube, and find a favorite aria (let's just say Ch'ella mi creda,") and listen to both Corelli and Giacomini sing it, the difference will be obvious.

I adore Corelli, btw, and I specifically excluded him from my discussion today, because he is as sui generis as Giacomini. They are very hard to compare, for that reason. One dramatic tenor with whom G. can be compared (greatly to his advantage) is Mario del Monaco, about whom the less I say the better.

corax said...

LOL! but maybe we can coax you into saying more about corelli some other time? maybe in a post of his own? he was always my father's favorite tenor, so i grew up hearing him in the house.

also, i know this blog is 'great opera SINGERS,' but maybe a post some time on voice types? you could have entries on lyric, dramatic, spinto, etc ... or would this be too redundant of materials in previous posts? [just an idea ...]

Edmund said...

More than happy to oblige, on all the above! Restez à l'écoute, mon ami!

Anonymous said...

All three performances are brilliant - I totally agree. Giacomini’s singing is not only powerful and well thought, it is inspired. He is a refined artist, with noble personality, which is rare today, as it seems to me. There are many decent singers, who work well, but not interesting enough. Giacomini didn’t show off, and yet was interesting. It’s hard to say with these videos, what he was like as an actor, but he created such expressive “images” with his voice, that it was enough. He looked well in scenic makeup and costumes.
------

I found a book , written by the Soviet conductor Boris Khaikin, he recorded the famous “Onegin” with Vishnevskaya, in 1955. He was a witty man and there was a funny bit in his book about the common opinion about singers - that they were not considered “musicians” in the Soviet musical circles. When someone asks, “Is he a musician?”, the reply is usually “No, he’s a singer” .(Khaikin loved singers very much, actually, and was a very supportive conductor). He wrote that he didn’t know a case when a singer had become a conductor. I remembered that because of Domingo.

n.a.

Edmund said...

Good comment. Yes, he makes the music come alive in his mind. He felt that the voice, used to create music, had a kind of spiritual power, that could help help heal the wounds the world inflicts on souls. He was a deep thinker, with a religious and philosophical predisposition, uncommon for a singer.

There was a famous Austrian tenor, Richard Tauber, who also did a lot of conducting. The caricature is that tenors are stupid or crazy, (and some certainly are)but that is not really true in general. Tauber, Domingo, Giacomini, were decidedly intellectual and musical, and they are all tenors. You and I know how deeply Lemeshev, another great tenor, thought about all the things he learned, and how he never stopped trying to improve his musicality. His years at the conservatory are a long story of a young man trying to learn all he could about the nuances of style that make a great singer. He studied Sobinov passionately, literally memorizing every gesture he made, and so on. The great singers, as a rule, are quite extraordinary people.

Anonymous said...

I listened to him again; low notes in his voice are in perfect harmony with Puccini’s orchestra. His singing is “wholesome”; maybe it is called “cantilena”. Many tenors sing melodically and correctly , but not everyone makes a “wholesome” impression - I don’t know how to explain it.

"The great singers, as a rule, are quite extraordinary people."
I totally agree. To learn a part and to sing it on the stage correctly is difficult enough, and any professional singer has to be intelligent. Great singers are outstanding people. Many Soviet musicians didn’t like singers though, because of the success they had with The Communist party bosses. A musician has to study for 15 years and then sits in the orchestra; no one knows him. Meanwhile a singer , who began to study at age 19, can perform one part successfully, and gets a medal from Stalin:) Khaikin had his own medals and liked singers, but noticed that not all of them wanted to be real musicians.

n.a.

Edmund said...

Most interesting! Yes, I see what you mean. Some singers consider themselves musicians, and others consider themselves to be popular entertainers. Pavarotti, to take an example, had a tendency to think of himself as being like Frank Sintra. (I guess he had no mirrors in his house:) He was not a particularly good musician, and he bacame quite lazy toward the end of his career. He also had some very unsavory personality traits. Not really a very nice guy. Giacomini is just the opposite. Thanks, another great comment. I have learned a lot from you, and I really appreciate your contributions to the blog.

Jing said...

Fascinating as always, Edmund. I am so grateful that you have brought Giacomini to our (my, at least) attention. Your blog really is a gift!Amen to all you say regarding popular success and artistic integrity. Thus always has it been, and not only in music...

I cannot resist commenting on "Si, Pel Ciel" - pairing the sublime Giacomini with the insufferable Milnes. Though somewhat enamored of him and his vocal production in my upstart youth, in retrospect, I more and more find him a boring singer and flagrant ham. An acquaintance of mine who once performed with him reported that Milnes arrived at the first rehearsal of the entire case passing out little buttons which proclaimed "Milnes is Magnificent!" And, regarding the YouTube clip, do we really need him joining Giacomini on that climactic B flat? Another excess from an unbridled ego. I'm ranting, I know, I know. Sorry, if there are any Milnes-lovers left out there. I speak only for myself. But, I am relieved that he seems to be finding the oblivion he so handsomely deserves. Grrr.

Edmund said...

Ha, ha! I sense you don't like Milnes:) You're not alone. He did seem to get a lot of good press in his day, which I remember as though it were yesterday, but you are right...history is a stern taskmaster: we shall see how he fares. Exactly the opposite story with Giacomini. The more people hear him, the more they all ask the same question.....why didn't we know more about this man when he at the peak of his career? In America, as I point out in my little piece, it all has to do with stereotypes and America's naive infatuation with them, which has historical precedents all the way back to Caruso. To the extent some singers fulfill cartoon-like expectations, of the kind you are likely to see in children's films, of monster-sized singers, usually with a horned helmet, and spear in hand, etc., or the not-too-bright ham actor, in whose camp you place Milnes, all the better. I believe that day has now passed. A different day has (finally) dawned at the Met, and it is no longer strictly a Verdi/Puccini museum, but a place where some modern operas are being heard, imaginative verging on outrageous stage directors are having their day, and there is a significant revival of some of the great music of the eighteenth century, including a new crop of excellent male altos such as David Daniels and Andreas Scholl. This is a happy occurence.

JD Hobbes said...

Interesting. What, then, is your opinion of the original operas being performed in modern dress as characters who are street gangs or whatever?

Edmund St. Austell said...

I suppose I have more tolerance for the sometimes bizarre stage direction and settings for traditional operas than I do for some of the so-called "operas" being written today. In my opinion, it is hopeless. The very concept of "opera" is grand, both by tradition and by nature. It took root and flourished in aristocratic times, when there was patronage, when tastes were more refined, and when there was no competition from movies, radio, TV, records, etc. etc. Very different times. As soon as you start to back down from the grandeur and the tradition, you instantly slip into the realm of operetta, musical comedy, and all the more restricted forms of lyric theater where the voices are different, vocal production must be re-considered, tastes are closer to popular culture, etc. Same is true of ballet. Just think of the difference between Swan Lake, the Nutcracker, Sylvia, La Bayadere, Manon, Le Corsaire, Romeo and Juliet, and any kind of modern dance, from jazz to cabaret to break dancing to ballroom. The difference is absolute, and the separation is unbreachable. I personally think opera hit its evolutionary end in the early 20th century, and the only innovations possible now are (1) unusual adaptations for the stage, (2) moving ever further back--18th and even 17th century opera, or (3) essentially and admittedly historical presentation of the now-standard repertoire of museum pieces that most people like and know, with traditional stage settings, singing and acting. I see no possible further evolution within the form as we recognize it.

Jing said...

I need to make a correction. My screed against the Baritone Sherrill Milnes (August 25, 2009) included the observation that, in the posting of a YouTube video of Milnes and Giacomini singing the duet "Si, pel ciel" from Verdi's Otello, Milnes felt the dramatic necessity of joining the tenor on the climactic high B-flat at the end. I was mistaken. Last week, as I wandered through a local music store, feeling doubts arise about what I had written, I consulted a score of the opera. Otello's final note is an A. Mea culpa - and even so, a much less astounding achievement for a lyric baritone; but still quite unnecessary. It is Otello's A, not Iago's.

Edmund said...

Yes. Thank you, Jing. I answered this one on the comments section of the piece on Nellie Melba.

Michael Vaccaro said...

Thank you for comments about Giuseppe Giacomini.
In 1982 when I was studying to be an opera singer in New York with Licia Albanese, I had the honor of hearing Giacomini in "Il Trovatore" with Price and Nucci at the Met. It was and still is the greatest performance that I have experienced as a fan of Opera. After singing for 20 years, I started my own Opera Company in Germany in 2003 (Opera Classica Europa) and we will present Giacomini in an Opera Gala in Ludwigshafen, Germany on the 17th of September. I spent time with Him at his home in Italy and what you have written is correct. He is like all great artists, like Albanese, humble and yet at the same time a real opera star, a shing example to all who would like to sing opera or for those who love opera.
My compliments,
Michael Vaccaro

Edmund said...

I will reply both here and on the site itself, in case this doesn't work with return mail. First of all, thank you very much for your comments. I really appreciate them, both because they are kind and also because it is a real lift to know that people like yourself understand this magnificent artist. His qualities as a human being are no small part of his excellence. My piece this week was on Melba, and I thought, while I was writing it, that Giacomini is exactly the opposite--he is all spirit, graciousness, and artist, while Dame Nellie-----well, no need to go into that:) I sincerely wish you the very best with your opera company. I suspect that with your sensibilities, it will be hard to go wrong! Thank you again, and GOOD LUCK! Edmund.

TenorTom said...

For my first opera I was privileged to see Tosca at the Met with Caballe, Giacomini and MacNeil. To say that subsequent performances were a bit of letdown would be quite an understatement.
In Giacomini's case I feel the low larynx techinique was not detrimental to his particular voice. Watching his videos, he appears completely and deeply connected to the breath and never reaches for notes. 'Secure' doesn't even begin to describe it compared to other tenors. It's as if the only way he can miss is if he just can't quite support it once he gets it. Despite his wobble, even his most recent videos display little of the dryness, anemic sound or intonation problems that plague older singers and tenors in particular. And I must add that I am so grateful for his continued willingness to perform, because whatever may be lost, there is still so much to learn from.

Edmund said...

Excellent comment! I appreciate it, and am always delighted to hear from Giacomini fans. As I point out in the article, he deserves much more recognition here in the US, particularly. He is in all ways admirable.

Thanks for dropping by and commenting. Please feel free to do so at any time! Edmund

quemadmodum said...

Thank you so much for your recognition of this truly great tenor. I never had the good fortune to hear him in a theatre, but after one chance hearing of "Ch'ella mi creda" in a televised Met gala in the 1980s, I was hooked. I remember thinking at the time that his voice resembled late-period Caruso more than anything else. The extremely deep anchoring of the voice (I felt it responsively somewhere around my breastbone), the profound, essential sadness of the timbre, the nobility of the high notes, and, as you point out, the aristocratic restraint of the phrasing--never a scoop or a sob like, say Corelli or some current less-tasteful performers--or Del Monaco's un-nuanced singing (nothing against that instrument itself).
I still sing professionally (deep bass, studied mostly w/ Otakar Kraus) and one of my earlier teachers was a disciple of Hüssler, who wrote in a most illuminating way about the 'down and back" anchoring of certain types of vocal production, particularly for dramatic voices. What a shining example of this Sigr. Giacomini gave us, and what a shame that he is so under-represented on recordings. When one listens to his "Come un bel dì" and compares it to some of the vulgarities of current singers...
Ob iter dictum, I don't care for Milnes at all, but it's his MANNER, as Nanny would have said :-) Cappuccili, now...THAT was an artist, even though he could sound uninterested. But none of that exhibitionistic quality.

Edmund St. Austell said...

Thank you very much indeed for your perceptive and erudite comments. Such commentary is always welcome here, and I'm so glad to hear you speak of Giacomini as you do. I have always felt that he was woefully underappreciated here in the US. He was an absolutely first rate singer, and an exemplary musician. Hope you will drop by de temps en temps. Edmund

Anonymous said...

Dear Edmund,

I came upon this blog by accident but reveled in what you had to say. I am a professional coach in NYC and was very close to both Franco during his later years, the years he was preparing for a come back and Beppe. I actually taught him chenier note by note. I used to have a brilliant recording of one he did in Macerata but alas it is long gone. I would love to secure copies of anything Beppe did if it is on some sort of recording. He truly was a great dramatic tenor while dear France was THE spinto.

Edmund St. Austell said...

Thank you so very much for taking the time to write. It is very good of you, and I congratulate you on the obvious success of your coaching career, in having worked with stars of such prominence. Giacomini's Chenier is nonpareil, and I personally think it may be more of a signature role for him than Otello, although the latter was certainly spectacular. Yes, indeed, Franco and Giuseppe--two of the world's great tenors! Thanks again. You are more than welcome on these pages any time! Edmund

Anonymous said...

Yes, Giacomini was very good. I heard him at the Met and have various videos and audios of his. But, every era has it's 'singers' and 'showbiz singers'that eclipse the 'artists'. In Giacomini's case, Pavarotti was the rage as was Domingo. Just the way it is.

Kimoochii21 said...

Thank you for this article, and follow up information. Every word seems exactly right, except maybe for the part about this starting a screaming argument among opera buffs. I was fortunate enough to hear Mr. Giacomini in San Francisco. I didn't know his name before that evening. The sound was just as you describe: rich, ringing high notes, bouncing off the walls. I thought he was having a really good night, as no pitch problems or thinness developed throughout the evening. I went away describing him as "world class, the best". I'm glad to read your information about the rest of his career.
Incidentally, I was also lucky to be standing within a few feet of Placido Domingo one afternoon at an "Opera in the Park" concert. Here is another "dramatic tenor" voice, but so different in the way it's produced. I won't say a word against Domingo's beautiful singing, recording, and general musicianship, but I confess to personally enjoying, most, the "old school" of operatic singing - "She Who Could Be Heard Across the River" - as opposed to what some Kiri Te Kanawa detractors have referred to as "pathetic mewing into a microphone" (please excuse the harshness -that comment was not my own). You're so completely right in your notes about how singing with the "larynx in the boots" and big voices in general, do not record well.
My biggest regret in this area is to have never heard Joan Sutherland in person. I've read that the voice was indeed "big", and her production method was the best, but was it "bouncing off the walls" like Giacomini, or surprising soft and seemingly produced without effort like Domingo?

Edmund St. Austell said...

Thank you for an excellent and remarkably well written comment. Much appreciated. Youtube, curiously enough, is doing a lot to bolster the reputation of Giacomini here in the US. He never got a fair shake at the Met, imho, because the (wonderful) Corelli was always given first choice on the big roles that would have been naturals for Giacomini. Also, there was the Pavarotti phenomenon at that approximate time, which garnered a fair share of attention. I personally never appreciated the way Pav. played to popular stereotype, but that is only a personal opinion. The fact is that there was not the ready-made audience for more refined artistry available in the US compared, for example, to Austria, where Giacomini was an absolute fixture at the Vienna Staatsoper for over 15 years. Oh, btw, my little opening gambit about starting a screaming argument derives from some painful Youtube comments made by another kind of audience, and that is the one that brooks no comparison of anyone with Mario del Monaco. I see that as silly and totally unnecessary. I personally am very fond of Del Monaco, a great tenor by any measure, and also Giacomini, whom I adore, for all the reasons pointed out in the article. I really don't see that admiring one implies disrespect for the other. That's all that referred to. Strange, isn't it, how a certain group of singers can always be guaranteed to excite passionate disagreements? One thinks of Callas, Netrebko, and Alagna, for example. Thanks again for your excellent observations.

Kimoochii21 said...

Thank you for your very kind reply.
I have searched your site for Joan Sutherland, but have as yet only found brief references. I will eagerly follow your blog, enjoying all of your well informed articles, anticipating your ultimate entry on this Great Opera Singer.
"...Callas, Netrebko, and Alagna" ?
Goodness! That's a mixed group. A few years ago, it did my heart good to read that Callas still out sells all other opera singers. On a small scale, winning the democratic vote is no guarantee of quality, but winning on a large scale over a period of decades is probably more than a fashion indicator.

Edmund St. Austell said...

Thank you. A piece on Sutherland is coming shortly. One of the great voices of the 20th century, wihout doubt. Stay tuned:-)

quemadmodum said...

Re Dame Joan's voice: I had the honor of singing on stage with her when she was at a late stage in her career--it was a production of "Merry Widow" in 1989 (she would have been 63) and it was her stage farewell in Dallas, Texas. She had a few climactic high notes "transferred" to the soubrette of the company but otherwise she sang what was in the score. What I heard, standing next to her, was a good-sized voice which still kept much of its extraordinary fluidity of motion, but what truly impressed me was what I can only describe as a sort of huge, sparkling corona of overtones around the sound. In the house (I heard her at the Met a few times) you didn't hear this as such, but it obviously contributed to the remarkable "sailing power" of her singing. That sound could vault effortlessly over an ensemble or orchestra like a musical Pegasus, and take wing in the theatre.
We won't hear anything to approach her anytime soon again. At her best, she conveyed a kind of sheer joy in singing that was irresistible. I recommend a very early clip of a Thomas Arne aria, "The traveller benighted"--the voice is younger and brighter, but when she starts a line of coloratura, there is that amazing sense of taking flight.

Edmund St. Austell said...

Since we did a piece on Dame Joan two days ago, I am taking the liberty of reproducing your excellent personal contribution to the comments section of that blog entry also, as well as here. Thank you very much indeed for your excellent and unique observations.

Kimoochii21 said...

Dame Joan had a younger singer sub her high notes? I'd have never imagined that.
When I learned that Joan Sutherland passed away on Oct. 10th, I found myself weeping throughout the day. I can't say why.

Rebecca said...

Wow! I just found all of your blogs and youtube channel. Bravo! A great treasure trove for me!
I prefer a much more open sound...this "covered" throat is not pleasant to my ears, but I admit (of course - not deaf!) that he has a superior instrument. Can you think of a dramatic tenor who has a more open, free sound? I'd love to hear one, and use him as an example, but I honestly don't know of a great example off hand. There are different opinions about who is a dramatic and who is a spinto.
Lirico-spinto, that's another matter.
I am a vocal coach but have mostly taught non-operatic singers, although my own voice is lyric coloratura.
I am fascinated and write about rock tenors as the need arises, online. Their voices can be quite difficult to classify. But interesting! ;)

As to Sherrill Milnes: i heard him in concert when I was in college; his voice was huge and not particularly beautiful. But he is no lyric baritone in my opinion. It's a bigger voice than that. I heard him in a large auditorium and he was not singing into a mike, and I was in the student cheap seats area! He was my first taste of bigger is not always better.
Beauty is far better. (Bjoerling) But when there is both... (Sutherland)...ahhhhh! Looking forward to your Sutherland piece. I saw her as a student as well and had good seats. WoW! Overtones indeed!
;-)

Edmund St. Austell said...

Thank you very much for your comments. That is nice of you, and I am glad to meet you. Your question about open phonation in a dramatic tenor is an interesting one. I believe the answer has more to do with national tastes and language than anything else. One is not likely to find an open voice in Italy, at least not recently, (excepting Giovanni Martinelli...I have several of his recordings on my channel) in the dramatic tenor category. I think such singing can be found, in the past at least, in Russia. You may have noticed, listening to Chaliapin sing, for example, that his voice is very "white" or "open," even though he is considered a bass. Also, one needs to bear in mind that these latter day classifications, such as spinto, dramatic, lyric, leggiero, and so on, can be overly fussy. There was a day when the standard classifications of SATB were adequate for most people, especially when the operas were new, and people were looking at them as theater, and were following the action and the plot. Now, the plots are so well known that what people listen to is largely vocal display. There was a Russian, in the late 19th and early 20th century, who was considered a great dramatic tenor. That would be Ivan Yershov (1867-1943). He recorded Siegfried's Forging Song in 1903, and you can get a good idea of what the Russians called a "dramatic" tenor 100 years ago:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_jR4JKNxzkU&feature=email&email=comment_reply_received

Probably something between the two is what you would find most listenable. Thanks again for your comments.

Rebecca said...

Thank you for answering so quickly, Sir! You are indeed a gentleman.
I was glad to see how you highlighted Placido Domingo in one sentence as a great musician. I totally agree, and have always preferred his intelligent singing to that of most of his contemporaries.
Musicianship is always a great asset. I was a pianist first, which has always helped me personally.

The example you give of Giacomini singing from Turandot is really beautiful. I don't find the low larynx to be as obvious here; somehow it seems less covered to me. The richness and resonance of the low end and middle voice, that he carries into the glorious top, is breathtaking.
I love a dark sound in a tenor voice. It is mitigating. The best of both worlds. Baritone richness + glory notes = vocal bliss!

And after listening to Che'lla mi creda a second time, I did get chills! Thank you for the your passion about it as it is infectious!

The Yershov clip is most interesting. Rather funny too! I appreciate the answer to my question. I must say, I agree with you about the overly fussy classifying. If a singer sings with great beauty and musicality and, most of all, emotional connectedness, it really doesn't matter so much. The "vocal display" can become tedious and actually might deter new people from giving opera a chance. (I think this is why so many people are drawn to musical theater because the story/acting leads the singing. Unfortunately the singing is often "yelling" and abominable.)

Despite this downside to the uber-classifying, I do really enjoy a dark timbre in a tenor. :)
There is a popular/rock tenor named David Cook who has an unusually dark voice but a very open and free sound. He sings glorious, full-voiced high Bbs, B naturals and Cs, so I know he is not a baritone. Besides, his low end bottoms out at about A, and his speaking voice is quite that of a tenor...almost light, compared to his singing voice. But the ringing, dark timbre is quite unusual, especially in rock music. I've never heard his equal, and would love to hear what he would do with bel canto, operatic vocal study.

Edmund St. Austell said...

Thank you. Cook sounds like an interesting tenor. I'll check him out.

Rebecca said...

Thank you! I know that rock is not your thing, but Cook is intriguing vocally. I'd love to hear what you think. Probably a spinto. Age 25 here.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ozCOLFodxNo

Here, he is singing more quietly but it is very beautiful in a non-operatic way.. age 26. No vocal training other than choir and school musicals according to his mom. He won the show American Idol in 2008.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vfd4xzPdWvY

No hurries of course. Happy Thanksgiving!

Edmund St. Austell said...

Thank you very much. I will check these out asap! As for rock--no problem. I have a son, now 40 years old, who has been performing professionally as a lead guitarist and singer in (about a dozen:) rock bands since he was 14 years old.....so believe me, familiar territory:-) !

Rebecca said...

Ah, so you DO understand! I was in rock bands when I was younger as well. ;) But I always sang classical music too, as my voice is more suited to it. (Not too many coloraturas in rock music! he hee)
There are many more examples of Cook's singing that show the power perhaps better... hard to choose.. this one at about 3:41 has him singing both parts on a high G# and C#; very ringing. He always does his own harmonies. This was an indie label.. before RCA.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CwmUoAxLRNQ

Edmund St. Austell said...

Again, thanks. I just got back from a Thanksgiving trip, so I will start listening to these soon. I'll get back. Do you have a youtube channel? If you go on to my main channel page, you can send me a personal message, which I can answer personally, if you have a channel yourself.

Edmund St. Austell said...

Your comments are very interesting because they come from personal experience, which is always privileged above simple opinion.

I can only add to what you say by observing that many great singers, especially heroic singers, never really had the fifth-space C. Among women, the great Wagnerian soprano Helen Traubel never sang a high C. Jan Peerce did not, Carreras almost never did, especially after the first flush of professional youth, when he started abusing his voice. A C would have hastened the slide downward, and would not have been convincing. Even the great Corelli would transpose Di Quella Pira if he did not feel well, and the number of tenors who cannot sing "Salut, demeure..." in the original key is legion. Yes, there is a lot of general craziness out there when it comes to judging and teaching young singers! Thanks for your superb comments!

Avvocato Orsini said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Edmund St. Austell said...

Thank you very much for mentioning Franco Bonisolli! He is also a favorite of mine. The press was cruel when they burdened the poor man with the nickname "il pazzo." There is evidence that he was not well. While I understand it, as he was indeed eccentric, it seems unnecessary. Italians are very good about tolerating bravura and wild behavior among gifted artists as a rule. This was a great voice, and you are right...there was not another tenor who could sing Manrico as consistently and predictably as Franco. The high C was always there, and always spectacular. When Verdi wrote Trovatore, one of the first things that happened was that the tenor begged him (Verdi) to let him interpolate a C at the end. Verdi agreed, but told him that when the C was no longer there, not to transpose the aria, just sing a G natural. Verdi did not want the aria sung in a different key. Alas, no way that was going to happen!

Edmund St. Austell said...

Yes!! That is exactly it! Thank you!

Gioacchino Florio-Maragioglio said...

Mr St Austell, I'm sorry if you disgree, but when I see you say "a dramatic tenor whose vocal method is the furthest extreme of the dark, greatly covered, larynx-in-the-boots school of Italian singing", I must correct you, because some of your readers will see this and because they don't have the experience with Italian singing methods, they might think this is only way modern Italians sing. But I tell you kind sir, the superior singing technique of the old Italian head-voice method using the gathered voice is still very relevant in Italy, and there are many who sing like Raimondi and De Lucia, because many people who Ettore Campogalliani and Gina Cigna taught are still singing or themselves are now teachers, while most of Arturo Melocchi's students are dead or in disgrace.

Forgive me for contradicting you in your place, but I must make the point.

Edmund StAustell said...

No, no, my friend, that's fine, and much appreciated! Actually, I am very glad to hear what you say. Nothing would make me happier than to know that the old, essentially "bel canto" methods are still in place and popular! I'm very glad to hear that Melocchi's teaching methods have lost their appeal. Even Giacomini, whom I admire, developed a very bad wobble in his voice at a certain point, and it can distract from the pleasure of listening to him. When he was younger, and still had his strength, he was wonderful, but there was a price to be paid, and it was a serious price. Thanks again for an enlightening comment!

Kimoochii21 said...

Mr. St.Austell's replies are always so kind and generous, while remaining correct. When Mr. St. Austell refers to "the furthest extreme", there is no reason to think that any readers will think this means "this is the only way..." He is careful about what he says. This is "the furthest extreme". I happen to like the furthest extreme. I also like other things, sometimes, and can see value in them, but it was worth discussing how the "larynx in the boots" technique contributed to a thrilling, dramatic tenor sound, and how part of this thrill is in the risks or problems that it leads to, probably (but one hopes the tenor will make it through tonight's performance, first).
I'll add an inflammatory note here by saying that personally, I found Gina Cigna to be something of a "shouter", and wouldn't expect her to be held up as a champion of "the head voice method using the gathered voice". She was no Aureliano Pertile. I believe that Gina Cigba's "gathering" up all the voice she could, whether from the head or the boots, also led to pitch variations, but that's another problem - "pushing". Ha ha. Sorry. That's sure to make someone mad.

Edmund StAustell said...

Thank you very much for a most interesting comment! Always welcome, and always appreciated!

Kimoochii21 said...

You are always so kind, and positive. I am not. I have to ask what you have to say about the "tenor" Stefan Zucker, as I can't find an entry for him on your blog. Are you too tactful to comment? Mr. Zucker was a serious operaphile, but, oh so different. Have you seen this clip?
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y2f8mCDIa8A
My goodness. What a "technique".
Even Mr. Zucker's speaking voice technique was ...unique (eunuch? -no, certainly not castrati).
How can love of opera and singing go so wrong?

Edmund StAustell said...

Well, please permit me to say, with the greatest possible discretion, that when I set up my blog, over two years ago, I had a vision in mind of gentlemanly discussions, celebrating known singers of international reputation about whom there could be dignified discussions, and differences of opinion, all within a framwork of seriousness and politeness. I have, to the best of my ability, tried to adhere to that paradigm.

It would probably have been possible to have a discussion or two about Florence Foster Jenkins, but it would have been undignified and cruel, and a distraction from more serious discussions. I hesitated about Yma Sumac, but there was a serious side to her career, especially in Peru, and she was respected by many, even though her more notorious exotica; which, incidentally, were the brain-child of her bandleader husband, distracted from her great talent. Similarly Ivan Rebroff, who did what might be called some cabaret or nightclub acts with his astonishing voice, nonetheless had a very serious side, and and a very wide and appreciative audience, as I discovered. In each case, there was a career, a serious reputation, and an international following. But I drew the line at that point.

Is it really necessary for me to go on?

Kimoochii21 said...

As always, you are intelligent, informative, generous and polite.
Nevertheless, it disturbs me how I can detect so much knowledge and training in that performance by Stefan Zucker, and yet it is just so wrong. Your first reaction was the same as mine: a comparison to Florence Foster Jenkins. Yet I think Mr. Zucker has studied even harder. I'm sure there's a lesson to be learned here, which we can probably apply to all aspects of life. No matter how much one might love painting, and study painting, maybe one is just not a painter, and should stop trying, at least in public.

Edmund StAustell said...

Very, very well said!

Kimoochii21 said...

I just had my first encounter (finally -better late then never) with Jonas Kaufman. Wow. Great legato. The larynx seems "lowered", though maybe not all the way to the boots; a little more than halfway there. Fabulously sexy. A fascinating technique, floating piano phrases between full throated roars.
I used your blog search tool, but couldn't pull anything on his name. I first heard the name, some years ago. Now I know what I've been missing. Wow! I want more.

Glenn Amer said...

I appreciate your blog very much - I found it when looking up Giacomini.

Further down in the comments, you mention two of my very favourite singers, Helen Traubel and Jan Peerce. Whilst I will agree with you that Traubel never sang a high "C" (and she never needed it!), Peerce does give a pretty fine top C in the Toscanini "La Boheme" in "Che Gelida Manina".

Regards from Australia.

Edmund St. Austell said...

Thank you very much, and welcome to the blog. You are always welcome here, and your comments always appreciated. You make a good point. I know the Peerce recording you refer to, and I actually have it posted on my Youtube channel, high C and all. And you're right, he sings it very well. That was, of course, one of the very few he attempted. Peerce is my boyhood idol, and a man for whom I always had the greatest respect. I knew him slightly, having met him several times and corresponded with him. One of the world's great tenors, and a real gentleman. Such a fine artist! Thanks again for the comment.

Anonymous said...

Great post. However, the Fanciulla del West video was taken within the last five years as I remember the concert. There is no wobble. He at some point during the 90s was cracking and wobbling quite often (unfortunately documented in a really painful Tomb Scene from Aida).

However, it's been my understanding that he trained out these problems and only in the last two years developed a bit of a wobble - in the Pagliacci performances.

In the face of all this, he still sings magisterially and with musicianship and tone that we'd be lucky to find in any measure among contemporary tenors.

coryisawake

Edmund St. Austell said...

Great comment! And good news. I am very interested to hear that. I admire him so much, and have infinite respect for his intellect. I am so glad to hear what you say. Wonderful artist!

Verdiwagnerite said...

Thank you again, Edmund. I am working my way through all your posts and learning a lot in the process. I confess to only recently discovering Giacomini and being amazed at his rich "sound". Incredible and even though I mentioned in a comment about Wunderlich that I like his purity of sound, I will contradict myself here! In Verdi and Puccini I prefer the Giacomini and Domingo sound - my non-professional way of describing it is full bodied, if that makes sense. As opposed to the Pavarotti style. It's intriguing to me why some singers get all the breaks and others don't. I know luck plays a part in most people's lives but you do have to wonder. Maybe some are more prepared to "play the game" whatever that might be. I'm listening to "Cielo e mar" and it's almost like he has too much voice. Fantastic. Would you say he suffered by being a contemporary of Pavarotti and Domingo but was not prepared to do the game playing? On that note I wonder if to some extent Domingo played the game because he saw Pavarotti was getting all the publicity so he started going on the chat shows and making the crossover records etc. Thankfully he didn't go as far as Pavarotti with the silly games. And the less said the better re: the 3 Tenors fiasco!
I must say though, I have huge admiration for all singers! They go out on stage night after night naked - metaphorically speaking - with only their vocal chords and their musical knowledge to help them! And an orchestra etc. Just listened to the last bars of "Niun mi tema" Wow! IMO it's the most complete opera with the most marvellous orchestration - particularly the intro to the last scene - the strings are incredibly foreboding.

Edmund St. Austell said...

Thank you again for an exceptionally well written comment, which reveals a keen discernment of operatic realities. Basically, you have your thumb on the pulse of the matter; Pavarotti and (expecially)Domingo had a near-controlling power in the United States for many years, and were not particularly noted for their generosity in promoting others. However, the real problem for Giacomini was Franco Corelli. It was nothing that Corelli did--he was actually a good colleague--it was simply the fact of his great popularity. The Met offered Giacomini the chance to fill in on the big dramatic operas when Corelli was not able to do them owing to scheduling. That of course was hardly the way to engage Giacomini's sympathies or interest, as he was, rightfully so, a dignified and very highly regarded tenor in Europe, especially in Italy, Austria and Germany. Also, as I point out in the article, Giacomini is a very serious man--very intelligent, and a superb musician. He was a conservatory graduate, with honors, and all business when it came to music. A religious man, he saw the theater as a temple, and music as a spiritual phenomenon. Rather distinct, shall we say, from the show business types like Pavarotti! Thanks again for an excellent comment.

Verdiwagnerite said...

Your right. I was forgetting Corelli was in the mix at that time and with a similar repertoire.(I've just read your piece on Corelli. Fascinating!). The more I read of your wonderful blog the more I am convinced that a singer's temperament is incredibly important. Not all singers want the pressure that comes with heightened expectation and some cope better than others.
Maybe Giacomini had the career that was right for him in the end, with his temperament.

Edmund St. Austell said...

Superb insight. Thank you!

RodTenor said...

Hello, Great blog! I am a Giacomini enthusiast (maybe because the color of my own voice is dark as well). I do marvel at the ringing high notes. Giacomini manages to maintain a «column of sound» that is very consistent, and we don't feel any shifting in his voice production between middle and high registers. I admire that he maintains the brilliance/warmth throughout his whole range. My teacher told me that he was (having heard him live), the real thing with an enormous voice and a very ringing sound. Today, I listen to Kaufmann, and I really wonder about his ability to produce squillo with the technique he has. His darkness seems a bit forced as the sound is rather muffled and sent to back of the throat or head. People very often say he has a BIG voice, when really what I hear is a RICH voice (which I find very beautiful), but not having seen him perform live, it is difficult to say if his voice is as potent as it is rich. Have you had the chance to see him perform? Thank you.

Edmund St. Austell said...

I have not, I'm sorry to say, but your analysis is very convincing. I suspect you are right.

Kimoochii21 said...

I agree, about Kaufmann. The sound can be very sexy, and there is a real feeling of tension ( Is he gonna' make it?). Similarly, I have mixed feelings about Jose Cura. There are moments when Cura is really thrilling, but then you have to slog through a lot of difficult passages to finally get those thrills. Kaufmann seems more consistently thrilling to me. I only wonder why I hear him so seldom. Maybe he just prefers to stay at home. Maybe he can't sing very often (or long -I don't see him making it through Tristan, e.g.)

Frantz T. said...

Hello. Mr. Edmund St. Austell, I am very glad to have found your blog. Unfortunately, I would have preferred to had seen it years earlier but I guess there's no better time than the present. I am an actor, writer, director in Philadelphia and an opera enthusiast. I am working on producing a feature film entitled "Ideale" about a first Black, dramatic tenor to sing the role of Verdi's "Otello" on the 125th anniversary of the opera's debut at La Scala. I am not sure if many people are aware but the anniversary has just passed, this Sunday, February 5th, 2012.

Singularly, I am mostly a fan of rich, dramatic works the likes of Puccini, Verdi, and Wagner.
On the subject of maestro Giuseppe Giacomini...I have read your blog and the comments of every individual listed--I personally think and agree with many of you that maestro Giacomini is perhaps the greatest and truest dramatic tenor that has ever lived. His instrument is uniquely and incredibly defined. The first comparisons that come to mind are Russian tenor Vladimir Galouzine and Chilean tenor Ramon Vinay. I think they too had rich dark baritone to their many verisimo roles, especially Otello. I am also thinking of John O'Sullivan, Ludivic Spiess, and of course, maestro Del Monaco. I have to cite some other up-and-coming artists like Allan Glassman, Jonas Kaufman, and Stephen O'Mara. Without going into to much details, I thought I might throw some of these singers in the mix.
Please check out my website and youtube channel--www.cameyespro.com and www,youtube.com/frantzexcelent

Thank you.

Edmund St. Austell said...

Thank YOU, my friend! I am very glad to have you in the group, and I was most impressed with your comment! You certainly are involved! RE Giacomini, I have received more mail, I believe, on Giacomini than another other singer about whom I have written in the last three years. This giant, who has received only a miniscule portion of the credit he deserves in this country, has become, thanks largely to Youtube, an enormous presence. I now hear many people saying that he may well have been the greatest dramatic tenor of the 20th century! I will most certainly have a look at your website. Thanks again.

Hildegerd said...

Wow, Maestro Giacomini comes right there beside my already beloved Jon Vickers.

Ch'ella mi creda was .... It runned shivers up and down my spine while he was singing.

Best wishes from Norway

Edmund St. Austell said...

Tusen takk. Jeg tror ikke jeg har hatt mange norske besøkende! Yes indeed, Giacomini was a mighty tenor, and I am so pleased to see that he is beginning to receive the attention in this country that he deserved! Possibly the greatest dramatic tenor of them all!

Hildegerd said...

Hei Edmund.

Du forstår norsk???? Kult!!

I have alwas been a operalover. The last year I have been obsessed with the voices of Jon Vickers and cult diva Magda Olivero along with Callas, Lauri Volpi and Flagstad.

The new singers are somehow not interesting to me. Do not talk about Nebtrenko or de Niese. Sorry.

Edmund St. Austell said...

Jeg deler din entusiasme for store sangere fra fortiden!

Hildegerd said...

Forståelig. ;)

Anonymous said...

Thank you for a terrific posting about Giuseppe Giacomini, a singer of whom I have many fond memories. It seemed to me that, during the early to mid-1980s, Giacomini and Franco Bonisolli were the only two world-class dramatic tenors actively singing in Europe (James McCracken was already, at the time, nearing the end of his career). Like many, I thought that Bonisolli had the superior instrument but that Giacomini was manifestly the better singer. He never disappointed!

A related question, perhaps for a future posting: why is it that true dramatic tenors like Giacomini are so rare? Many of the prized performances of the dramatic roles have been sung by spintos like Corelli who had enough horsepower (especially in the upper register) to sing them memorably.

Edmund St. Austell said...

Thank you very much for your comment! Glad you liked the article. I am extremely fond of Giacomini. For me, he is THE dramatic tenor. You raise a fascinating point at the end, one I will have to think about! Again, thanks!

Anonymous said...

My name is Shawn. With the advent of Youtube and finally getting a computer, I am now, at almost fifty years of age, discovering the magic of such great singers as Giacomini--and how I have missed out. I prefer spinto and dramatic tenors over lyrical tenors. To my mind, it is a matter of personal listening taste. But I don't believe one can reasonably deny that this dramatic tenor is one of the giants of the last fifty years. He is absolutely stunning with some of these roles--nothing short of, as you say, thrilling. It is a kind of voice few can match, I would suspect. Thank you so very much for introducing me to him, the great Giocomini! Bravissimo!